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Karishma’s Grandmother tried to Kill Her: Her Story

May 17, 2010

Karishma a few weeks before her 2nd birthday

This has been one of the most heart-breaking cases for The 50 Million Missing Campaign.  Karishma was born a cesarean baby in December 2008.  Her birth infuriated her paternal grandmother.  She angrily announced, “A girl! I am going to put salt in her mouth and kill her!”

There are millions of little girls under the age of 6 years who are killed in India through deliberate neglect, starvation, violence and often premeditated murder.  They are killed with undisguised vengeance simply for being born as girls. Click here for our post on ‘What’s Killing India’s Little Girls?’ Each rural region of India has its own age-old method of female infanticide. In the West there is doodh-peeti (Drinking milk), where the baby is drowned in a bucket of milk.  In eastern India, as in Bengal, where Karishma is from, salt is put into the baby’s mouth and it’s closed for a minute.

In fact, in Karishma’s father’s village, a few months before this photo of hers was taken, triplet girl babies that were born healthy were declared dead within a day.  Autopsy reports showed that the family had killed them with salt in the mouth.  In another recent incident, a father threw his new born off a train within 12 hours of her birth.

Fortunately, for the first 4 months of her life Karishma lived in her maternal grandparents’ house where she was well taken care of. However, soon as she was returned to her father’s house, Karishma’s paternal grandmother tried to put salt into her mouth. Her mother was able to save her, but after that she would saddle Karishma on her back and carry her everywhere, even to the toilet.

Karishma has a brother, who is 3 years older than her. He is doted on and pampered like a little prince. In fact Karishma’s father’s family though from the village is by no means poorly off.  Her grandfather is the head of the panchayat (the village judiciary), and owns a lot of land and orchards.  He even opened a shop to sell mobile phones in the village and a motorcycle showroom.  Despite, this Karishma was unwanted.  She was treated like she was non-existent.  She would just lie on the floor near her mother, as she cooked, and cleaned for the family. No one ever picked her up or cuddled her.  She was not just neglected and ignored but also deliberately starved.  Interestingly, even the mother, who could have fed her anytime, chose not to. They did not even give her a name. The name ‘Karishma’ (meaning ‘Miracle’) was given to her by The 50 Million Missing Campaign founder, Rita Banerji, much later, who was shocked that the child, who was almost 2 years, did not even have a name.  Karishma’s father and his family refused to give her mother any money to purchase milk or medicines for her.

Karishma was not yet a year old when her paternal grandmother, who constantly physically abused her mother, also started physically abusing Karishma. Over time the beatings intensified such that there were times when Karishma would pass out with the pain.  She often had bruising all over her.  The grandmother even taught Karishma’s brother how to strangle her. She told him, “If you kill your sister, you will be even more loved by us.”

In April 2010 Karishma and her mother had returned to live in the maternal grandparents’ house. Karishma was so malnourished that the doctor who examined her had said that a few more months and she would have been dead.  It is not surprising that the mortality rate for girls under 5 years in India is 75% higher than for boys the same age.

Karishma was whole-heartedly embraced by her maternal grandparents. They  lavished on her the love and care that every child deserves and needs. Her grandmother, Sandya would boil and mash vegetables everyday to give her the nutrition that she had been starved of all these months. Every morning Sandya would take Karishma to a little pre-nursery school where Karishma  played with other children and could once again be in a normal, healthy environment. She was blossoming, eagerly interacting with people, and seemed like a happy child.

Then suddenly on May 30, 2010, Karishma’s mother decided to return with her to her husband and in-laws house. It is a response of a vast number of women in abusive marital homes in India, even in situations where they are given a lot of support and guidance as was the case with Karishma’s mother.  Her mother had spoke to Rita Banerji, and was well aware that Karishma’s life was in danger.  However, if she left Karishma behind, she would face further abuse in her in-laws house.  Karishma’s mother made a choice: She was willing to sacrifice her daughter’s life to preserve her marriage, as unhappy and abusive as it was.  A group of lawyers went to Karishma’s fathers house, and told Karishma’s mother they had come there to remove her and both her children to a safe house, and that under the law no one could stop them.  But Karishma’s mother said that she wanted to live with her husband and would not leave unless her gave her permission to.  It was very distressing for the lawyers, the 50 Million Missing Campaign and her parents as all of us wanted her to start a new life and were helping her in every possible way — as with counseling, training, a safe home and a new job.   Women returning to their husband and in-laws homes however is a response that is culturally conditioned in India. It is deemed that a woman’s rightful place is with her husband, however good or bad he may be.  This holds true even for the educated, professional, working women in India.  Many who do eventually divorce consider it a shameful act.  One hardly ever hears an Indian woman openly speak out about how she survived a violent marriage.

Our concern right now is primarily for Karishma.  Her mother is an adult and we cannot force her to leave her husband and in-laws against her will.  However poor Karishma has neither a choice nor a voice in the matter of her own life and safety.  If she survives past the age of 5-6, our fear is that her grandparents could sell her into the sex trade, so they won’t have to pay a dowry for her later.  Unfortunately, there is no law in India where there can be state/legal intervention when a child’s life or safety is endangered in her parents’ home. Unless both her parents’ give her up we cannot make provisions for her adoption.  We however remain in touch with Sandya, Karishma’s maternal grandmother, who often visits the village where her daughter lives with her husband and in-laws, just to meet Karishma and make sure she is alright.

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64 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2010 7:12 am

    This is a horrid story, to say the least. I am sure there is a human rights group / lawyer(s) following Karishma’s fate but can there be no interference by them in this regard before it is too late?

    • THE 50 MILLION MISSING CAMPAIGN permalink*
      June 21, 2010 7:22 am

      Unfortunately we have tried in Karishma’s case to have her maternal grandparents’ adopt her. But the legal framework of India is such that unless both parents give her up she cannot be adopted. There is another horrible aspect to this story. The mother is very aware that Karishma can get killed but what we realize is that Karishma sort of deflects a part of the violence she endures and also serves as a ‘companion.’ The mother is very isolated and lonely in her in-laws house. So she is using Karishma as a shield. Karishma’s paternal grandmother who tried to kill her is also the head of the village panchayat (the village court) — so that is what makes this case impossible.

    • November 11, 2012 12:50 am

      What I don’t understand is …if the Karishma is unwanted and doomed to death, why then will her parents not allow the maternal grandparents to adopt her? It makes no sense that while they do not want their girl child, they still will not allow her to live a better life elsewhere. This is sheer misogyny…May Karishma be the miracle everyone is waiting for…one who changes how law enforcers enforce the law…

    • November 11, 2012 9:03 pm

      The thing is lawyer had moved to file a case of attempted child murder against the family. And keeping Karishma with themselves is how they protected themselves. But they couldn’t if the mother hadn’t helped them take Karishma away. And she did that because she wanted to return to the marriage and she essentially offered Karishma as the sacrificial goat, so they didn’t abuse her for our taking her away. If we didn’t move court were were afraid they’d try to take her away to sell. So legally we were in a fix. There is no law for intervention and protection of a child. See the Norway child custody case. After fighting to bring the children back to India, the children have been now sent to the mother who was abusing them.

  2. June 21, 2010 7:31 am

    I agree. It is complicated, but surely the law-enforcing agencies can do Something. I do understand that similar to Pakistan, the police in India can be complacent and inactive but cannot this would-be-killer grandmother – her village-head status not withstanding – be at least threatened to be arrested and a pressure group built to confront her directly?

  3. June 21, 2010 3:16 pm

    So children in India have no legal rights of their own allowing government intervention and custody arrangements on their behalf, even in cases of threatened homicide by family members?

    There are probably others within India trying to change this situation, too. There is an International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, http://www.ispcan.org/ that I think includes child welfare advocates from India.

    I wonder if you could join forces with these child welfare workers in trying to help Karishma and children like her?

    • THE 50 MILLION MISSING CAMPAIGN permalink*
      June 21, 2010 4:38 pm

      We will definitely touch base with the organization you suggest here and see if there is anything they can do.

    • Vivian Velez Climaco Ocampo permalink
      November 10, 2012 7:48 pm

      What kind of country is this that still practices femicide (in this modern age?) How can we stand aside and watch this happening and not do anything about it? surely, someone should speak up for poor Karishma. She has every right to live! India, wake up! What kind of medieval society is this! Coming from a predominantly Christian country, the Philipppines, I am shocked at this barbaric practice. Our people may be poor, but we do not kill our children.

    • Diana Miquelajauregui permalink
      January 16, 2014 8:10 pm

      What abolir the world institutions?
      Don’t we have “some people” incharge of the world children? What It has to be so difficult to save our human babys from this cruel and painful tortured lífe-death horror? The UN still exists?
      I feel sick…. I’m in México…. Hoy could i help them? What can i do? Please let me know!
      I’m Diana Miquelajauregui
      My Mail is dianaluzyfuerza@gmail.com

  4. lolita permalink
    October 13, 2010 3:32 pm

    I had to research about woman in india that are abused for an essay and I’m really shocked. It’s really hard to read about these kind of things. I can’t believe that people could do this to someone. Especially a CHILD. No, I can’t even call those monsters people. That grandmother is a woman as well, how can she do something like that to the baby, just because she’s a girl?

    • October 14, 2010 5:22 am

      @ Lolita — Many of the crimes against women in India — including female feticide, infanticide, and dowry related torture and murder are often initiated by other women in the family — especially the husband’s mother or paternal grandmother. And the reason why is because the misogyny that drives this, is internalized by women. Female genocide in India sadly is also a form of extreme self-loathing!

  5. safiyat permalink
    December 21, 2010 2:16 pm

    when a mother kill her daughter is only god that can judge

    • December 24, 2010 4:51 am

      @safiyat. Maybe God may judge a mother who kills her daughter. But it is a crime under Indian law, and we think that the courts and police must definitely do their job here and protect the right of the child.

    • emery permalink
      August 16, 2012 11:00 pm

      you couldn’t be more wrong! in fact that attitude allows this to continue to happen. India has courts and the world has the international criminal court (ICC) people who kill there children need to be arrested, taken to court, convicted, and finally shot. once people see that they will face a firing squad for doing this then they will stop. once the law is done with them then god or the dharma or whatever lies beyond this life can deal with them. I’m sure no one would say that only god could judge Adolf Eichmann for his role in the Holocaust.

  6. Trina permalink
    August 18, 2011 7:14 am

    How is this child today?
    Has any progress been made relating to female murders?

    • August 21, 2011 11:44 am

      @Trina — Karishma is still at her father and in-laws house. As long as the mother chooses to keep her there there is not much we can do. The maternal grandmother however visits them frequently to keep and eye on the child. Female feticide and infanticide have got worse in India as indicated by the census results this year.

  7. Diya permalink
    September 11, 2011 10:10 pm

    How is Karishma now? Can’t her mother be somehow persuaded to give the child for adoption by her maternal grandparents. Surely she would not want her child to die.

    • September 13, 2011 7:28 am

      @Diya — We tried to convince Roopa give the custody of Karishma to her parents. They love her and we were also seeking help from organizations for Karishma’s education and upbringing. However, Roopa wanted Karishma with her and actually left secretly with the child. We discussed this with her parents and there seem to be many reasons. 1)Roopa’s in-laws want Karishma back because they don’t want an attempted murder case filed against them. 2)We fear that at some point Roopa’s in-laws will sell her into the sex-trafficking business which is very big in Bengal. Yes, Roopa is aware of all the dangers to her daughter, however women make decisions according to what they see as favorable to themselves. And harsh as that is, that is what Roopa is doing. However Karishma’s maternal grandmother visits the village periodically and is “keeping an eye” on her. We can only hope because there is no legal recourse for intervention if neither of the parents will give her up.

  8. emery permalink
    February 15, 2012 12:30 am

    i just want to know where UNICEF is in all of this. If this is the best the Indian government can or will do than India should be kicked out of it! i just checked UNICEF’s website they did have an article about child mirages so clearly they are aware of at least part of the problem. hears the article if anyone’s interested.

    http://www.unicef.org/protection/india_59612.html

    i mention this because a child marriage sounds like a likely outcome of Karishma story to me if she survives which is still far from assured at this point.

    • February 23, 2012 7:22 am

      @emery: There absolutely needs to be a recognition of the human rights of children universally by bodies like the U.N. with the same political and policy pressure as for the human rights of all other groups. The problem is that internationally children continue to be treated like the property of their parents.

    • emery permalink
      February 23, 2012 11:18 pm

      from what i can tell the UN has some idea whats going on here but they don’t know the full extent of the problem. someone needs to let them know what is actually happening here. has the campaign made any major efforts to contact the UN? they have a lot going on right now with Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran, North Korea, and so on. so it will probably take several tries to get through to them.

  9. Abi Carey permalink
    March 29, 2012 3:52 pm

    I follow your posts on FB, having volunteered at an orphanage in Chennai for 3 months of my gap year. I looked after all girls, gorgeous little ones who I think of as my sisters now. Even in a Christian orphanage, I was upset by the beating and lack of love for girls compared to boys. They were given food, schooling and made to work really hard but all they lacked was a mummy to love them. The house “mothers” didn’t give them love or attention. They just scolded them for making noise and if they brought their sons in, turned a blind eye as the boys beat them up!! Well this English girl didn’t let that happen. I told that boy off big time!

    If I was allowed, I would have brought all 40 of my tangachi (little sister in Tamil) home with me. Culture is so important but a loving home, wherever in the world, is better.

    All the stories you post make me extremely sad and feel helpless. When even the law isn’t for your cause, how do you do it? I have a lot of respect for you and your campaign!

    Where are you based? I am visiting India again next year and if I am close, I would be interested to connect with your organisation.

    Abi Carey

    • March 31, 2012 1:49 pm

      @Abi Thank you for being courageous enough to honestly share your experience here. Many times people observe what you have observed and they remain silent. In fact an Indian girl who was adopted from one of these orphanages by a couple in Spain when she was 8 years old, later returned to India and wrote about exactly what you are talking about. The book by Asha Miro is ‘Daughter of The Ganges‘ The 50 Million Missing Campaign is a zero-fund, online campaign and we have no office as such. Our primary aim is 1)To unsilence the genocide of women in India through our blogs and networking sites 2)To gather a public mandate demanding the enforcement of laws and official accountability for this genocide. So please sign our petition and circulate it — it will help us much.

    • Abi Carey permalink
      April 1, 2012 10:01 pm

      I’ve signed the petition and told my friends. I live with some British Indians and one of the girls said she was so angry about what she read on here and also signed the petition. I don’t think enough people know about it over here. Also our prime minister, David Cameron, is forging business/industry links with India as it is becoming a world leader and, while it is great for India and I want it to succeed, I think our PM should learn about this behaviour. Doing business with the Indian government while ignoring this issue is just plain wrong.
      Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help your organisation online.
      Abi

    • April 4, 2012 4:49 am

      @Abi Thank you very much for your support. We are trying to build an international public mandate for official accountability and legal action to stop this genocide. So it would help us much if you and your friends would continue to keep circulating our petition online on your social networking sites as often as possible. In fact female gendercide is not just an issue that’s limited to India now. It is an international issue that’s affecting countries like the U.K. as well. Do check out this article.

    • emery permalink
      April 4, 2012 10:07 pm

      Abi your right and i would add to that that the worst government as far as that is concerned is Russia. all they care about is how much money they can make selling guns to India. India has a right to defend its self but those countries helping them do so have an obligation to put pressure on the government to act on this issue. an international arms embargo on India is the best way to force government action on this issue. what makes me even more angry is that Israel has the same attitude! if anyone ought to know better its the Israelis. what happened to “never again?”

  10. April 20, 2012 12:48 pm

    i just came across this article 2 years later. You’re writing is fantastic and you tell the story in such a compelling way. I recently started my own foundation to help girls and my motto has been “it’s all about the girls”. You just gave me more strength to continue my work, especially as I it is based in West Bengal. I am already a follower.
    thanks

  11. What? permalink
    July 17, 2012 1:27 pm

    The man made concept is the root of most traditions, favouring their ideals of strenght and virtue. A male has nothing to offer in terms of intellectual strength, emotional intellect. However they have strength. A male had no value and therefore customs had to be estrablished, favouring him and these customs were intended to devalue the woman, claiming her menstrual needs were filthy, that she was nothing but a financial strain and without a brain. The ideas nourished customs that demanded that families paid to have their daughters married, as if the new family taking her in had to take her in and had to be paid to unburden her family of her. The women were so taught to forget themselves and to observe these customs that they joined the men in propagating the myth that they were worthless beyond the boundaries of sex and reproduction.

    These customs need to be abolished, or at least for once decide that males are unworthy equally and establish customs that favour women and also allow women to perform rites traditionally favoured by men to show that the rite is not gender specific. How wonderful it would be for these families to have male child that was a complete bastard in every sense of the word, spoilt beyond belief than have him sent to the world, where he then spits on his family, making them regret ever loving that son, when with them they have a daughter who is not only intellectually of greater value, but superior in every sense of the word. It would be even better still as a final act of justice, where the son does not even bother to show up for the family’s funeral, leaving it to the daughter to perform those rites. However knowing the people of this culture, fucking indians ( I have indian bloodline and I spit on it), they will still ignore the daughter and leave everything for the son as it is his right. Indians should starve to death and do not deserve even a drop of milk for killing their daughters in it.However before that happens, I pray they all have sons only. Daughters don’t deserve to die like that. Heck if that famile was revealed to be the lack of feminine presence in the womb of their wives and due to the presence of the masculine, I wonder if their stance will change and if baby boys would be drowned in milk. I don’t sanction the murder of baby boyrs or girls, but it would demonstrate the lack of value in the physical construct of gender. However obviously the best solution would be to eradicate all forms of infanticide.

    The more I see Indians, the more I ignore them. I have daughters, but I will not kill them. In fact, I could not imagine not having a daughter. My ex husband was white. I am part white, through a longer line of ancestral mixes. I am not more proud of the white European heritage, preferring my darker European genes as well as my other Asian genes, just not the indian.

    My second husband is Middle Eastern, Muslim whose family had wanted daughters. They love my two daughters

    • Sonia permalink
      November 10, 2012 8:42 pm

      Girls is special then boys. Boys is not as special as girls. I’m impressed with this story.

  12. Alo permalink
    August 3, 2012 10:34 am

    i am grieved by the story of this little child as i am also one of the feminist.
    YES, as we cannot go against the law but what i can do is just pray that Karishma will get justice.

  13. Sonia permalink
    November 10, 2012 8:51 pm

    stop girls kidnap and killing them. If there will be no girl there is no child……………

  14. larry&ann permalink
    November 12, 2012 6:31 am

    I would love to take all these beautiful little girls into my home because I have 5 daughters and 3 sons and I am from a family of mostly boys as well as my husband too. I have nieces who only have daughters and I love them so much and tell them so. I love little girls and if the people in India don’t want them, I would have them here if I have the money to do so.

  15. Katie Moudry permalink
    November 13, 2012 11:53 pm

    Heartbreaking story.

  16. Maureen Brenzel permalink
    November 19, 2012 10:58 pm

    The paternal grandmother should be arrested, and for that matter every other paternal grandmother who threatens to kill her female grandchildren, as she would be in any other civilized country.. Spouse abuse should be made illegal by the Government, and strictly enforced by the police. Every animal will fight to the death to protect its young, yet most of these women seem to be brain washed from birth into thinking they are the scum of the earth – and carry on the cycle of mistreating and killing daughters. Huge changes need to be implemented, starting with the Government, The laws of the country, and law enforcement – passive resistance brought the British to their knees, but it definately will not work in this case.

  17. Sheryl permalink
    November 20, 2012 9:50 am

    If Karishma and her mother would like to come live with my family, I would do my best to see they have food and shelter and are safe.

  18. February 8, 2013 7:37 am

    Only laws defending the abused children could give us the means to support girls giving them the right to live.

    My western association with my social workers who are all indians and dedicated people can do nothing against parent’s will….. and girls are starving…..

    What a sadness

  19. February 8, 2013 1:14 pm

    Merely going through this account made me feel literally sick. How irredeemably diseased is a culture that tolerates horrors as unspeakable as those poor little Karishma’s nightmarish story is infested with!

  20. kishorne permalink
    February 8, 2013 1:50 pm

    The only way to change what’s happening to girls like karishma is education and helping her mother but in cases where a child is in danger, laws should be changed. Even if it means getting the family arrested for abuse whether its the parents, grandparents etc.No one should be above the law………but thats the problem in India…..you can break the law and not get to the court for years and years to come. Unless the Indian government wakes up and changes laws to protect its women and female children, the abuse will carry on. BUT the international countries can put pressure on the India Government. We have to come up with ideas on how…….may be every time a minister from india goes overseas, have rallies or every time a minister visits india have rally……I don’t know but some how all the rapists should be removed from power till they are freed from the courts. May be the stars could help bring light to the subject ……

  21. chaitali permalink
    February 8, 2013 2:44 pm

    HOW IS SHE NOW???/ i just dont understand why girls are neglected

  22. Sam permalink
    May 5, 2013 11:35 pm

    Hi there, I was just wondering if there’s any further updates on Karishma’s case. How is doing?

    • Sam permalink
      May 5, 2013 11:36 pm

      *How is she doing?

    • May 7, 2013 11:11 am

      We are keeping a tab on Karishma through her maternal grandmother. And as of right now is ok. We hear the mother and father have moved into another house so we hope that will keep her safe.

  23. Renjini permalink
    January 16, 2014 4:04 pm

    I’ve gone through so many of the stories your campaign has uploaded here and all of them made my stomach turn. But none more so than this one! I’d like to say that I am totally flabbergasted by why Karishma’s mother would want to ‘preserve’ her marriage, but I think in some twisted way I understand. A psychology major once told me that victims of abuse often find it hard to break away from their abuser, Often they understand what abuse is, but never see what’s happening to them as abuse. They keep telling themselves that if only they give in a little more, things will change for the better. Take this mentality and reinforce it with cultural and gender stereotypes the likes of which you find in our country, and I guess you have the stories of millions of Indian women!

    I hope, given the support of her family and the Campaign, Karishma’s mother is able to break away from this violent relationship and provide herself and her daughter a good life!

    • Kelley permalink
      February 8, 2014 4:02 am

      An Indian lady who i work with passed me on to this site and other similar sites to raise awareness of these crimes committed.. To say the least I am flabbergasted… I have a little girl aged 21 month and can not begin to even think what a life would be in this same situation. I feel I would be strong enough to leave the husband and put the safety of my daughter as priority, but I think having a privileged life in the UK my brain can not and should not comment. I believe though that life is just living for the mother and fear constant… The same will probably become of Karishma as her life ages too… This is very very sad and makes me mad at the helplessness of all of us in support. One day I hope the world will come together and have rights and wrongs laid down as standard to the people of the world. When I read these stories it only emphasizes just how far away we are from my ideals… Please can you update how little Karishma is doing as she enters her 5th year, bless her little soul. I’m not religious but I pray with all of my fellow readers that Karishma one day finds a happy life x

    • February 13, 2014 11:14 am

      Thank you for your concerns Kelley. I usually speak to her grandmother around New Year’s. But I have not been able to get hold of her yet. I’ll keep you update when I do.

  24. Maria Fernandez Fanjul permalink
    April 15, 2014 11:03 pm

    Do you have any volunteer opportunities in India? I am a Social Worker very interested in gender inequality and reproductive rights in India.

    • April 17, 2014 11:18 am

      Maria, we are not an NGO. We are an online campaign with three very specific goals which you can read on our ‘About’ page. We get involved in cases only on an emergency basis, which is if we are approached for help and are unable to find any NGO to take on the case, and the case is dire. But please do check our volunteer page on top as well.

  25. Madvanthi permalink
    July 16, 2014 6:00 pm

    Reblogged this on The Epic Blog and commented:
    I can’t believe that some people can be so horrid!!!

  26. Madvanthi permalink
    July 16, 2014 6:01 pm

    I can’t believe that some people are so horrid!!! I needed a case study for my project on female infanticide and this one has touched my heart.

  27. July 25, 2014 11:45 pm

    Wow! such a story of this girl, Karishma, I hope you’re able to keep in touch with her. I hope we all dare to get involved and help girls in this situation.

  28. October 9, 2014 10:51 pm

    Rita is there a latest update on Karishma? Were you able to get in touch with her grandmother? This story keeps haunting me ever since I first read it over four years ago even though there are plenty of other horrific stories from our part of the world but there’s something about the little girl’s picture and plight that tugs at my heart. She must be six years old now.

Trackbacks

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  8. Woran sterben Indiens kleine Mädchen? | “50 Million Missing” - 50 Millionen verschwunden
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